Frequently Asked Questions about Freshwater

Why is freshwater important?

Our freshwater ecosystems are important for drinking, farming, electricity and recreation. They also support a myriad of aquatic creatures and are unusual, with many of them unique to New Zealand.

What’s the problem with New Zealand’s water?

We have been far from wise in the way we use freshwater. We take too much water out of many rivers, lakes and aquifers, and pollute what is left. As a result, most lowland waterways are polluted. They are often not safe for swimming, and no longer support an ecologically healthy ecosystem.

What’s causing the freshwater crisis?

There are many competing demands for water in New Zealand. Farming, land use intensification, and increasing urbanisation all affect water quality. Regional councils are under constant pressure to allow more and more water consumption.

What does the Government have to say about NZ water?

In their freshwater discussion document, the Government makes a number of proposals that are useful and important for water management. But some of their proposals will be significantly detrimental to water quality in New Zealand and must be changed before legislation is introduced to Parliament.

What’s Forest & Bird’s view on water management?

Commercial water use doesn’t have to be incompatible with maintaining healthy ecosystems. The health of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers is reaching crisis point and everyone, including industry, recognises that this cannot continue. We need comprehensive, consistent rules and expectations around water management, monitoring and enforcement. We hope the response to the freshwater discussion document will get us there.

What’s a Water Conservation Order?

Water conservation orders (WCOs) are used to protect the outstanding natural values of water bodies. They apply to freshwater (and geothermal) ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, wetlands and aquifers.

A WCO may preserve the water body’s natural state or protect its outstanding characteristics when it:

  • Contributes to a habitat for terrestrial or aquatic organisms.
  • Has value as a fishery.
  • Has wild, scenic or other natural values.
  • Has scientific or ecological values.
  • Is used for recreational, historical, spiritual or cultural purposes.
  • Has outstanding significance in accordance with tikanga Māori

What is the Land and Water Forum?

The Land and Water Forum is a group of industry stakeholders, environmental groups, iwi, scientists, and others who have been working to develop a shared vision and agreed water management framework.

Over the last 7 years, the Land and Water Forum has done something remarkable. They agreed on an integrated policy in which freshwater ecological health must be managed by putting real, meaningful limits on water management.

The Government’s freshwater discussion document is mostly based on the recommendations of the Land and Water forum.

Forest & Bird has been involved in the Land and Water Forum throughout this process. You can find out more here.

What happens after submissions on the freshwater discussion document?

The Government is consulting on the freshwater discussion document right now. When the consultation period is over they will consider all the input and then introduce the first draft of their legislation to Parliament.

Providing feedback on the freshwater discussion document is an important step in the legislation’s first draft and gives us the opportunity to create good law for managing New Zealand’s freshwater resources.